Blue skies, somber thoughts
Nasr Dastgir, Syeda Samira Sadeque Arts & Culture

Contemporary art meets spirituality and Bengali sci-fi

  • (Staring up at the sky), Neha Choksi picks up the infinite variations of sky blue. These are cyanograms, referring to early scientific experiments with light and representation. Based on a photograph of the landing of a ‘space ball’ or junk from decaying spacecraft and satellites, Pressure Sphere Recovered in South Africa 2001-2002 is a drawing from Choksi’s series Space Debris. 
    Photo- Neha Choksi, Skyfold 8, 2013
  • (Alienation), Mehreen Murtaza investigates concepts such as authenticity and objectivity, challenging the division between the realms of memory and experience. Her work addresses the forcefully forgotten legacy of Dr Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr Salam, despite being an icon of pride for the nation, was forgotten over time due to his identity of an Ahmadiya Muslim, a persecuted minority in current day Pakistan.  
    Photo- Mehreen Murtaza, Comet Bennet over Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb March 1970
  • (Light blindness), Firoze Mahmud experiments with a wide range of media and materials to address contemporary concerns. His roles shift and conspire between artist as activist engaging within the politics of a nation in flux. In these images, he creates cyborg-like images out of regular Bangladeshi families by placing eyeglasses made out of everyday materials. The final image is absurd yet showing hope as the subjects stare upwards at the sky. 
    Photo- Firoz Mahmud, Soaked Dream and Future Families

This exhibit is inspired by one of the first Bengali science fiction stories of the same name, and showcases the work of more than 20 artists across the region, including Ronni Ahmmed, Neha Choksi and Saskia Pintelon. They interpreted the theme of looking toward the sky.

Three movements 
The exhibition is arranged in three broad movements, represented on the walls of the exhibition by deepening shades of blue. The first movement “Staring up at the sky” is about enchantment, and takes the Tagore painting as a formal point of departure. The second movement “Alienation,” is about the complex feelings that can be evoked be contemplating our place in the universe. The third movement “Light Blindness” is about dystopia and the possibility of redemption. 

It follows, in some loose sense, the plot of a generic science fiction novel or film – first a happy, innocent world; which is then interrupted by the hostile appearance of a foreign or extra-terrestrial being; and finally, at the climax, an apocalyptic threat emerges with the potential for salvation through faith and human will.

Bengal Renaissance
The name of the exhibition comes from Nirrudesher Kahani or “The Story of The Missing One,” written in 1896 by Jagadish Chandra Bose. It is considered to be one of the first tales in the sci-fi genre written in Bengali. Bose, a pioneering inventor of instruments for wireless technology and the study of nature, was close to the Tagore family, who were the central figures in what is known as the Bengal Renaissance. 

It would have been against this backdrop that Gaganendranath Tagore painted Resurrection, which is the other inspiration for this exhibit. It is an ethereal painting, with a circular vortex of clouds with a religious icon at the centre, as if the viewer is staring up at the heavens. “I was really struck by this work because it made me ask why? Why is he painting this religious theme in this extremely futuristic way? Modernity, religion, rationality and faith are often perceived as a dichotomy these days, especially here, especially now,” said curator Nada Raza.

Syeda Samira Sadeque

Syeda Samira Sadeque is a journalist at Dhaka Tribune. 

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